Studying abroad with support from the State Department

In the last week of June, international business major Melanie Mora ’25 begins summer classes at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, thanks to a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. She is the first Gilman scholar in Lenoir-Rhyne University history.

Melanie Mora

“I’ll be taking a humanities course and a Korean language course,” Mora explained. “I’ve done some independent study of the language, but being able to practice every day with native speakers will allow me to learn more, much more quickly. Plus, I’ve signed up for extracurricular courses to explore Korean culture and history.”

Administered by the U.S. Department of State and named in honor of the late Representative Benjamin A. Gilman of New York, the Gilman Scholarship was established in 2001 to expand access to study and internship opportunities abroad, allowing students to develop the skills to engage with the international community and workforce. To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must also be a Federal Pell Grant recipient.

“I wasn’t sure if I should apply because I knew it would be very competitive. A lot of people apply, and the application is writing intensive,” Mora shared. “When I got the email, I could barely read it. I saw ‘Gilman scholar, something, something, congratulations.’ I was really happy, but also completely in shock.”

While Mora was surprised to win the award, Brittany Marinelli, director for international education, and Jeff Vahlbusch, Ph.D., dean of the Fritz Honors College – both of whom supported Mora through the application process –  were not surprised at all.

“Melanie Mora is an extraordinary campus leader at LR – a major in international business, president of the First-Generation Student Association and president of the Latin Hispanic Student Alliance,” said Vahlbusch. “As Melanie wrote in a draft essay for the Gilman application, she is ‘committed to representing the diversity of [her] Mexican American background while actively engaging with the culture and people of South Korea. [She aims] to bridge cultural divides, promote mutual understanding and contribute to a more interconnected and compassionate global community.’ In short, Melanie embodies the purpose of the Gilman program.”

Melanie Mora participates in a game night with five international students

In addition to opening up more opportunities to experience South Korea by defraying the cost of essentials such as airfare and tuition, the Gilman Scholarship offers Mora several long-term benefits. Like many federal scholarship programs, Gilman recipients have access to unique networking, training and mentorship opportunities. In addition, Gilman scholars qualify for 12 months of noncompetitive eligibility hiring status in the federal government, which streamlines the application process and provides a significant advantage.

For now, however, Mora is just looking forward to reuniting with friends she met when they studied at LR and experiencing South Korean cuisine firsthand. She hopes her example will inspire future students to take a chance on bigger scholarship opportunities and study abroad.

“I think it can be very scary to put your hopes out there on these big-name scholarships and awards,” she shared. “We see winners coming from the bigger universities and think we can’t compete, but we absolutely can! It’s about the students, not the school size.”

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